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David the Nachalite

By David Wilder
5/1/2014, 8:05 PM

A couple of days ago a new youtube video surfaced, filmed just outside my Beit Hadassah home in Hebron. It shows an Israeli soldier, guarding on the road outside the building, being first verbally, and then physically attacked, first by one Arab, and then by a second, who joined in. The soldier, realizing he is being threatened from two sides, loads his weapon, pointing it at the attackers, who then leave.

Following release of this video, the soldier, named David, who belonged to the Nachal IDF division, was relieved of his post, put on trial, jailed and told that he would no longer serve in a combat unit.

There are still a few unanswered questions about the soldier and his punishment. The IDF first claimed that he'd been punished because of  'unnecessary violence' against the Arabs who attacked him. They later changed that, claiming that he is a 'problematic soldier,' having been involved in disputes with his commanding officers.

I was told, by friends of his, serving here in Hebron, that this incident and its ramifications have 'broken him.' They related that he did have incidents that may have brought about some kind of punishment, but not nearly as severe as he was sentenced to, (twenty days in prison) and that he would not have been banished from his army unit.

In other words, he was definitely harshly punished for defending himself against Arab aggression.

As an aside, but an important note: Young men work very hard to succeed in combat units. They must endure rough basic training, long marches, with full equipment loads, and then proceed to 'advanced training' sessions which are no less trying than basic training. After months of extreme physical and also mental exertion,  they 'graduate' into active units, which serve in places like the Golan Heights, the border with Lebanon, Jordan,  Egypt or Gaza, and areas in Judea and Samaria, like Hebron.

Hebron is considered to be one of the most difficult posts. There are frequent 'alerts,' there is tension, as soldiers must remain very alert for long periods of time, and the hours they work are not easy. With that, many soldiers here find their work rewarding; they develop positive bonds with many people here, both Hebron residents and visitors from around the world, they are serving in Hebron, which many find to be a unique experience, and they understand that here they are serving Am Yisrael, the people of Israel and the State of Israel, in as tangible way as possible.

The media immediately picked up the video and broadcast it on Israeli television. One TV news host asked the correspondent what should be done in such a case. The reporter answered that the 'orders' are for the soldier to 'put down his head, look the other way and ignore them.' The news anchor replied, 'I take my hat off to anyone who can do that.'

Very quickly word spread of David's punishment. A facebook page was opened, protesting his punishment, with soldiers posting photos of themselves, many times with their faces hidden, with notes saying, "I'm with David, the Nachal soldier." The page has over 100,000 'likes.'

Hebron's Jewish community also conducted a demonstration yesterday, opposite the base where David served, until being jailed.

The issue at point is not simple.  Clearly the IDF must enforce codes of action and also of discipline. However, it does not stand to reason that a soldier is punished for defending himself against Arab aggression.

This problem is not new. In the past, soldiers in Hebron, and in other places were punished, including imprisonment, for defending themselves against rock-thowing Arabs, and fire-bomb attacks. Senior officers were dismissed from the IDF for defending themselves against anarchist-foreigners, who attacked them and endangered their lives.  In the past I told many visitors who asked about self-defense: 'It's permissible to use your weapon if you're dead. If you're still alive, it's forbidden.' This may sound silly or exaggerated, but unfortunately, it's almost true.

What really happened with David from the Nachal division? Simply, he was set up. There's an organization in Hebron called Youth against Settlements. It's run by an 'old friend' Issa Amru, with whom I've had multiple run-ins. What he does is 'set up' soldiers, and other security personnel, like David. He sends a few Arabs to begin a provocation, with at least one or two others in the rear, with cameras rolling. A soldier, border policeman, or even a civilian is verbally, and/or physically attacked. The victim responds. The entire incident is filmed, edited and posted on youtube. The result is an arrest, trial and many times, conviction, as happened with David, the Nachal soldier. 

The ramifications are exceedingly serious. First, this blots Israel's good name. The US State Department released a report reprimanding Israel for attacks against Arabs (palestinians) while commending PA 'security forces.' Such 'admissions' by Israel of 'unnecessary violence' against Arabs, even when they are clearly the instigators, is similar to kicking a soccer ball into your opponent's goal for him.

But more disturbing is the influence on soldiers. Such incidents lower their morale and cause them, most problematically, to hesitate. Certainly there are times when a soldier or officer must 'stop and think.'  But there are other situations, when many people's lives could be at stake, when the person must act instinctively. If they hesitate, even for a moment, the results can be catastrophic.  If a soldier, when attacked, must hesitate, stop and think before reacting, he many lose his life and many others may, too. It is unthinkable that a person should be trained, given a uniform and arms, sent out to protect civilians, and then told to refrain from acting when the situation calls for immediate action.

And of course, these event cause great joy and comfort to the enemy, who realizing his victory, continues on the same road, continuing to goad soldiers and civilians, hoping to bring them too, to their knees. Over the past few days I've seen numerous incidents whereby soldiers, at the same location next to Beit Hadassah, are baited by Arab youth of all ages, with the soldier left with little recourse but to look the other way, and walk away.

Today the IDF officially forbade soldiers from using Facebook as a means to protest such incidents, as David the Nachal soldier's punishment. It seems to me that this attempt to subdue public objections will fail. To the contrary, it will only fan the flames of turbulence amongst the brave young IDF warriors, who ask, rightly, 'what do you want from us?' As they write on their facebook photos, 'we are with David the Nachalite.'

The root of this issue is, 'what will they say,' the 'they' being Obama and Kerry, the EU's Ashton, and other anti-Israel, pro-Arab world leaders. So, who comes first? Our men and women in uniform, their lives and the lives of civilians, or world opinion?

The answer should be clear, after sixty six years of independence.